Ohio State Spring Football Preview: Cornerbacks

COLUMBUS — While previewing spring football for his position, Ohio State cornerbacks coach Tim Walton made a clear distinction.

He might have a player returning who started last season, but no one is a returning starter in his room.

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“Nothing in life is locked in,” Walton said when asked about Denzel Burke. “He’s the guy that started that’s returning, so it’s always competition. There’s always things like that, and that’s why we recruit here, man.”

It wasn’t a knock on Burke, who played through injuries last season after bursting on the season as a freshman starter in 2021, but more a clarification of how Walton views his guys entering his second season coaching the position he played at his alma mater.

“At a place like this, it’s just the situation you’re in, man,” said Walton, who spent the previous 13 seasons coaching in the NFL. “You want to develop guys in the spring, but that’s the level of your competition.

“Everybody has to compete, so you bring in guys to always compete and elevate the room. Some guys may beat some guys out. That’s a part of this thing, too. That’s the thing. Just because you were a starter a year ago doesn’t mean it’s gonna be this year. Just because you were a backup doesn’t mean you’re gonna stay in that role this year. Roles are always constantly changing, and that’s on the development, the growth and the accountability that we all have and the production. So that all will kind of evolve on a daily, weekly, monthly basis.”

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Here is a look at the position entering spring ball next month:

Returning starter: Denzel Burke

Next in line: Jyaire Brown

Also in the mix: Jordan Hancock, Ryan Turner, Davison Igbinosun, Jermaine Mathews Jr.

On the way: Calvin Simpson-Hunt

Burke overcame a midseason benching to finish as the leader among Ohio State cornerbacks with 34 tackles last season.

Like the rest of the room, he failed to record an interception and will be looked upon for more production in 2023.

“He’s been playing for a couple years now, so he’s the guy who has the most experience in the room, but you know how that is: you have to keep growing and building on that,” Walton said.

“Lead by example. Lead verbally. Help the young guys out so they can avoid some of the mistakes that you may have made. Show them some things that they can do good or improve or tweak because of your experience, and hopefully we get that that maturation process and help bringing the group around.”

Brown, a four-star recruit from Lakota West, ended up having a larger-than-expected role as a true freshman last season and looks to be among the favorites to move into the starting lineup with a strong spring.

He started one game and played in nine last season, recording eight tackles and three pass break-ups.

“He’s growing,” Walton said. “He’s in a good mental space. You just have to now go continue to grow with it and put that into action.”

Hancock was viewed as a potential breakout player last season but saw the first part of his second season at Ohio State wiped out by a hamstring injury, and Turner saw only brief action as a true freshman from Florida.

They will have to contend with newcomers Igbinosun, a transfer from Mississippi where he was a Freshman All-American last fall, and Mathews, an early enrollee from Cincinnati who was the No. 51 overall prospect in the class of 2023 per 247Sports Composite rankings.

They are both viewed as potential early impact players, and Walton said he has no concern about their arrival ruffling the feathers of any of the holdovers.

“You try to bring the best guys in, and you try to bring guys in with high character, great competitors, great work ethic, the love for the game, want to play at the highest level, and then it always sorts its way out,” Walton said.

While he could not yet talk about Igbinosun per NCAA rules, he confirmed he likes the ball skills he has seen from Mathews.

“Some guys can actually track the ball, can actually go get the ball. He does that, man,” Walton said. “He’s comfortable with playing the ball in the air. Instincts.

“He just he just has it. He has that ‘it’ factor of playing the game. So now go develop it, groom it, get it ready for the next level because it’s a different step, but he has a natural confidence and a natural knack for the ball and being able to be a football player. So looking forward to working with him.”

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